BARNEGAT, NJ - It’s not just students, parents, and faculty that face changes based on what happens at tonight’s special meeting of the Board of Education. After a presentation of recommended policy modifications, board members will vote on prospective school district organizational changes. The outcome could well impact all township taxpayers.
Earlier this month, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis released an analysis of options to take effect in the 2020-2021 school year. At tonight’s 6:30 pm meeting at the Brackman Middle School, the administration plans to present information on what has been whittled down to two options.
Very few people dispute the need for a change within the district’s elementary schools. Not only is there an inequity in class sizes because of districting guidelines. Standardized testing shows that only fifty percent of Barnegat students read at their grade levels. Additionally, sixty-five percent perform below their grade level when it comes to math skills.
At tonight’s meeting, Board of Education members will be called upon to decide between two options. Redistricting would mean redrawing the lines and maintaining K-5 classrooms. According to Latwis, this represents a more expensive option primarily related to transportation costs and the need to hire additional staff members.
Many parents have been quite vocal about their preferences to keep the four neighborhood elementary schools in place. At last month’s Board of Education meeting, a crowd gathered with mixed feelings on the proposed changes.
The second option that board members will consider tonight calls for a reconfiguration of the district. The plan would mean that students would change schools every two years until high school. Initially, the district hoped to put the transitions in place last year. However, they agreed to delay in response to the opposition received from some early elementary school parents.
Board of Education President Michael Hickey commended district administration on including the community in revisiting the options. "Dr. Latwis created subcommittees, interactive workshops, and community presentations to get involvement from all of the stakeholder groups," said Hickey.
According to Latwis, reconfiguration is the better option. Not only would it create an equity in class sizes, but it would also allow the district to enhance educational opportunities. Teachers would work in collaboration with “coaches” who become dedicated specialists for particular grade levels.
The budget comparison offered in the district’s analysis weighs heavily in favor of moving to a grade banding model. The latter calls for the use of $55K of banked cap. Meanwhile, redistricting would call for utilization of the entire $892K and an additional $384K.
Newly elected board member Richard Quelch questions some of the logistics related to the proposed reconfiguration. He plans to address them at tonight’s meeting.
“I am concerned that we are dedicating the Dunfee School to Pre-K only,” said Quelch. “The program is funded by a state grant, and I am worried about what happens if we lose the funding. Will we then have another empty school like the Edwards School?”
According to the proposal, the Collins School would be used next year to educate Barnegat children from kindergarten to the second grade. Quelch expressed his concerns that Collins is not big enough to accommodate the number of students earmarked to attend it.
“I see it as a safety issue,” said Quelch. “It’s something that needs to be addressed.”
This hasn't the first time that school administration has listened to concerns on both issues. As far as the pre-school, Latwis pointed out that the state has increased funding so that students start public school education sooner. "There's no indication that we're going to see a decrease," he shared. "If that did happen, I'm not opposed to offering a tuition-based preschool."
As far as the Collins School, Latwis provided insight into the school's capacity. "There are 46 rooms designated as classrooms," Latwis said. "Based on a classroom size of 20-25 students, the capacity for enrollment is 920-1150 students."
Hickey says that stakeholders have been given the opportunity to give their input on the proposed options. "This has been done through various meetings and communications over the last year," he said.
"We want to move on this tonight so that whatever direction the board votes on can be implemented by the district," Hickey continued. "This is by no means a hasty rush to judgment and accounts for the reason we can do this on the first reading."